Here is another film which we watched and discussed as part of the “Mars Hill Video Club” at Uganda Christian University. I have updated it for a more general audience.
Characters: Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels (Dustin Hoffman)
Julie (Jessica Lang)
Jeff (Bill Murray)
Sandy (Teri Garr)
Available on Amazon, Hulu
NOTE: “Tootsie” is a term of belittlement, a term which the sexist director applied to Dorothy. However, Dorothy faces him down and insists he call her by her “real” name.
Theme: Roles and the Man
The idea of men acting as women is at least as old as the Greeks, where boys played the female parts. Several of Shakespeare’s most famous plays feature women playing the role of men (As You Like It and Twelfth Night). Needless to say, the confusion of sexual roles leads to great comedy. It also, however, probes the larger question: What does it mean to be human? What is common to our humanity that is not mediated by male and female roles and stereotypes.
The Bible itself understands a tension between being simply human and being male and female. It says: “The LORD created man (read human beings) in His own image; male and female created He them” (Genesis 1:27). There are dangers in forgetting the polarities of human nature: this results in either the masculinizing of women (when women just want to act like men) and the feminizing of men. Such role confusion may also underlie pathologies like transgenderism where children who are unhappy with the image of their bodies choose to alter them with drugs and surgery.
On the other hand, forgetting the common humanity – that male and female come from the same source – tends to degrade women and turn them into sex objects. And it also degrades men and turns them into sexual predators.
Socialization, growing up, involves learning to be both “man” and “a man” or “a woman.” Tootsie is the story of a man, Michael Dorsey, who has played many acting roles but does not know how to relate as a human being toward women. Hence he abused his first girl-friend Sandy, who unfortunately had such a low self-image that she played doormat to his abuse.
In order to prove his acting prowess, Michael applies for and gets a role as hospital administrator in a sit-com as “Dorothy,” a tough-as-nails dowager. Michael’s “Dorothy” becomes a national sensation but creates for him a severe crisis when he develops a crush on Julie, the beautiful but insecure star of the show. How does he get out of his role and woo Julie? In the hilarious climax, when “Dorothy” transitions before the watching TV world into her twin brother “Edward,” Michael also makes himself vulnerable to all those he has hoodwinked in his role-playing. What he gets for this performance from Julie is a punch in the gut.
By living the life of a woman, Michael discovers his true humanity, indeed his manhood. At the end of the film he says to Julie: “I was a better man with women when I was woman than I ever was with women when I was a man.”
The Christian life involves a similar putting off and putting on:
Put off your old self (man), which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self (man), created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:21-24)
In Christ, as we die to our old nature, we receive the new by grace through faith. This applies to men and women alike.
Anyway, this is a classic comedy by a great cast of actors on a timeless theme.